‘Where are you?’ — Israeli hostage families urge women’s groups to speak up

November 14, 2023 - 3:58 PM
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People gather in front of the United Nations Headquarters in Jerusalem demanding for action to be taken to return the hostages kidnapped by Hamas during the October 7 attacks, in Jerusalem November 13, 2023. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

 Choking back tears and shaking with anger, families and supporters of Israeli women and girls held captive by Hamas in Gaza lashed out at global women’s rights groups on Monday, asking why they have not spoken up for their loved ones.

Dozens of the hostages captured by Hamas gunmen during their Oct. 7 rampage through southern Israel are women and girls of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly.

Their families, during a media event in Tel Aviv, urged women’s groups, particularly those connected to the United Nations, to speak up and advocate for their release.

They also presented some of the health issues that the female captives are dealing with: breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma.

“Where are you when we most needed you,” said Yarden Gonen, whose sister Romi, 23, was shot in the hand as she was taken into captivity from an outdoor dance festival. “Don’t turn your back on our women, or on us.”

Reuma Tarshansky’s teenage son was killed in the Hamas attack on their home in Kibbutz Be’eri and her daughter Gali, 13, was taken captive.

“Every mother of an adolescent girl – and I’m sure you also have girls her age – who are going through changes, physical changes, hormonal changes, anything else a woman could understand and know, what a 13 year-old-girl goes through,” she said.

“I don’t know what my girl is going through over the past month. I can only imagine.”

The Hamas attack over a month ago sparked the war in Gaza, where Israel has since carried out a devastating bombardment and ground offensive.

“It is well known, well researched and well documented that women and girls suffer more during captivity,” said Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, an Israeli legal expert and a former vice-chair of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, who spoke at the event.

Two speakers singled out the group UN Women, which last month put out a report on the impact of the crisis on Palestinian women and girls in Gaza.

“Where are you? Where is your voice? Why is it not heard?” said Kinneret Stern, whose cousin Moran Stela Yanai, 40, was also taken captive from the music festival.

The rights of Israeli women, she said, “must be equal to those of every woman in the world.”

UN Women, in response to a Reuters query, said it “is gravely concerned about all the hostages, many of whom are women, held by Hamas and continues to call for their immediate and unconditional release across all of our channels and platforms”.

“UN Women unequivocally condemns all forms of violence against women and girls, as well as any use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, which is a grave violation of human rights. It is never acceptable. International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law must be respected and upheld at all times,” it said.

– Reporting by Joseph Campbell and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Sandra Maler and Ed Osmond